Best shopping finds of 2012: Vietnam quilts

Yes, it’s time to look back, so I’m looking at the best shopping finds in 2012, a list topped by the beautiful quilts of Mekong Quilts.

I visited their shop in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, a cool, quiet space hung with handmade quilts made in the poorest villages in Cambodia and Vietnam.

The organisation is not-for-profit, and says 50 cents from every dollar spent in its shops provides books and scholarships for school children, and promote health and quality-of-life initiatives amongst what they describe as ‘the poorest of the poor’ through the NGO Mekong Plus, which started in 2001.

The group employs around 300 women in rural Vietnam and the Svay Rieng province of Cambodia to stitch the quilts, and now also to make baskets and other household products. Naturally, all are absolutely beautiful, and well worth the money.

The helpful girls in the shop wrapped my quilt in strong plastic so I could stash it as checked-in luggage, and it was almost as light as a feather.

My ABC quilt, which fits a baby’s cot, cost 1,155,000 Vietnamese dong (about A$50), a beautiful investment in every sense.

Mekong Quilts Hanoi
13 Hang Bac str, Hanoi, Vietnam
Also found in Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: +84-4-3926 4831

Unearthly delights and pleasure palaces await, from Udaipur to Adelaide: travel deals December 23, 2012

Lose yourself in the Garden of Unearthly Delights, go art deco in Kuala Lumpur or sail and rail around Australia’s best wine regions in this week’s best Australian and international travel deals.

Summer in Adelaide brings the world’s best performers to town, with the deeply weird Garden of Unearthly Delights kicking off on Valentine’s Day until St Patrick’s Day, with Circolombia from (you guessed it) Colombia and the US’s own Ruby Wax ( Then WOMADelaide runs from March 8-11, 2013. Stay at the Adelaide Central YHA and save $46 on a three-day festival pass, or save $52 on a four-day pass. Rooms cost from $68 a person (four-bed dorm) or $107 a person, twin share. (08) 8414 3000,

There’s a lot to love about Lonny (that’s Launceston, to non-locals), including the Tamar Valley wine route. Hit the historic town midweek and shave your hotel bill by one-third at Peppers Seaport Hotel, pictured above. Stay two nights between Sundays and Thursdays until March 31, 2013, with breakfast thrown in. Usually about $350 a night, it costs from $452 for two nights. 1300 737 444,


March means Mardi Gras in Sydney. Save up to $485 a person with Gay Globe’s three-day 2013 Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras packages. The deal includes three nights at the Cambridge Hotel, grandstand parade-viewing tickets, entry to the official Mardi Gras party and tickets to the recovery party at The Laneway. The packages start on Friday, March 1, 2013, with drag races at Bondi Beach, with handbag hurling and high-heel sand sprints. Saturday features 10 hours of entertainment and 15,000 people partying the night away. Optional add-ons include a tour to the Blue Mountains or all-gay Sydney Harbour Bridge climbs. (02) 8005 1690,

Stefano’s Bakery, Mildura

Would you fly 1000 kilometres for a meal? Yes, if Stefano de Pieri was behind the cookers. Stay two nights in a 4½-star one-bedroom apartment in Mildura and receive a bottle of Stefano’s own wine and a gourmet breakfast at Stefano’s Cafe Bakery and sit down to an eight-course degustation dinner at Stefano’s Restaurant. It’s all about Stefano. Happily, you’ll also get a late checkout. Book Stefano’s Indulgence by March 31, 2013. Usually $850, it costs from $730 for two guests for two nights. 1300 539 559,


It’s hot, it’s sultry, and you’ve left the kids behind: Lizard Island, pictured above, knows that occasionally it’s time for just the two of you. The adult-only resort has 24 beaches so odds of privacy are good. Stay five nights and pay for only four, saving $1444 on one of the Great Barrier Reef’s northernmost resorts. Includes all meals, most drinks and water activities such as snorkeling. Valid until March 31, 2013. Costs from $5776 for five nights. 1300 863 248,


If you’ve come over all James Bond-like thanks to Skyfall, then go back to where it all started, amid the islands of Phang Nga Bay, a filming location for The Man with the Golden Gun. The Koyao Island Resort, reached by speedboat, comprises 23 Thai-style beach-facing villas hidden among the coconut palms. Usually from $740 for five nights in a sea-breeze studio, costs from $530 for two people, for five nights. 1800 667 731,

There’s never really an off-season in Bali, but post-Christmas, it all calms down just a little, and so do the rates. Nunia Villas in Seminyak is halving its prices on stays in the resort’s one-bedroom villas. Includes a free airport pick-up, Balinese lunch for two and a 30-minute massage on arrival. Book by January 8, 2013, for stays from January 9-June 30, 2013. Usually $330 a night, costs $165 a night. 1300 859 565,
The Majestic spa, Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur’s hotel scene has got a shot in the arm with the opening of the newly restored art deco-style Majestic Hotel KL. Stay three nights at one of its sister beach resorts – Pangkor Laut Resort, Tanjong Jara Resort or Gaya Island Resort – and get a free night at the Majestic. Otherwise, book five beach nights, and get two free nights in KL, saving from $217 a night. The deal runs until November 30, 2013. Tanjong Jara Resort costs from $126 a night, room only. +0011 800 9899 9999,
See winter in Rajasthani style at the Taj Lake Palace, pictured, in Udaipur, a pleasure palace on Lake Pichola, built in 1746. The package includes two nights’ accommodation, airport transfers, daily yoga and a half-day tour. Book and stay by March 31, 2013, and save 10 per cent off food and drinks. Room-only usually starts at $830 for a double. Costs from $1547 for two people, two nights. (02) 8356 2566,
The super-luxurious Golden Eagle is a private train traversing the railroads of Russia and the Central Asian stans and Mongolia before arriving in Beijing. Get up to $800 credit towards your international airfare when you book before January 31, 2013, for travel September 20-October 10, 2013. The 21-day Silk Road journey costs from $US22,395 ($21,190) a person. 1300 851 800,


Shiraz, sparkling, sauvignon blanc — what’s your poison? Hit the road through Australia’s best wine regions, but in this case, your transport includes five nights on the Dawn Princess, sailing from Melbourne to Sydney via Burnie and Hobart in Tasmania. The 14-night tour also includes two cross-country train journeys on the iconic Indian Pacific from Sydney to Adelaide to visit the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, before returning to Melbourne on the Overland train. The sail-and-rail trip includes three nights in Sydney, heading up to the Hunter Valley. Book by January 2, 2013, for travel April 23, 2013. Costs from $2739 a person, twin share. 1800 044 066,

Three strikes: salted caramel hits out

I thought it was novel that I bought a salted caramel donut from Movida Bakery a few weeks ago. No jam. No chocolate. Salted caramel.

Then, just a few hundred meters and a few heartbeats away, still in South Yarra, the sweet scents from Burch & Purchese lured me in and hit me with salted caramel spread and a chocolate, mandarin and salted caramel cake. This is Adults Only sweets, kids, and they (and their cult following) take their salty caramel pretty damned seriously.

The triumvirate hit a week down the track, when I sauntered in to the northside’s new St Ali’s outpost, in the wilds of Carlton North. And there it was, except this time, the salted caramel appeared in a macaroon lurking on the side of its hit-me-between-the-eyes coffee. (Obvious note: salted caramel is the new macaroon.)

Laid back? You bet. St Ali North

I was caught off guard: I had only just finished mainlining what looks like your standard bacon-and-egg fry, but was in fact stone fruit halved and fried (that’s your ‘tomatoes’), and bacon ice cream, (the roll of white ice cream was doing a good poached egg impersonation, and the bacon was in the form of a scattering of tiny bacon chips on top), served on brioche. Yes, more salt-and-sweet: it was fabulous. I wish I’d photographed it for you, but reader, I hoovered it all up so fast, you would have had to use the ‘sports’ setting on your camera.

It’s not just me, check out seven (seven!) more Melbourne haunts to get the taste of 2012 in the excellent Broadsheet magazine.

Spot roos, swan around Melbourne, trek Bhutan: travel deals

Powderhounds ... it's going to be a great year for heli-skiing.
Powderhounds … it’s going to be a great year for
heli-skiing. Photo: Getty Images
Stay for free in chic Melbourne, send the kids out ‘roo spotting in rural Queensland or trek Bhutan: what’s not to love about holidays? 


In what has to be one of the sweetest deals in town, the Art Series hotel group (Blackman, Olsen and Cullen) is letting you roll the dice on what it calls “the overstay checkout”. Stay one night and the next day at 11am you can request a late checkout. If nobody’s booked to stay in your room, you get to stay another night, free. And so on, day by day, until the room is booked again. The deal runs from December 16 until January 13, 2013. Costs from $165 a night. 1800 278 468,
To celebrate the first major exhibition of the 20th-century great Francis Bacon at the Art Gallery of NSW, the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth gives you one night’s accommodation, full breakfast for two and a free double pass to the exhibition, worth $60. The Cultural Stay package is available until February 24, 2013. Costs from $325 a night. 1300 656 565,
Northern Territory
Darwin gets green and steamy over Christmas, so breakfast by the pool, followed by a cool dip, is the order when staying at the Holiday Inn Darwin. Stay three nights and save 20 per cent on accommodation, and there is free brekkie and kids under 17 can eat and stay free with a Happy-Go-Lucky package. Book and stay by February 28, 2013. Costs from $327 for three nights’ B&B. Quote “happy”. 138 388,
You don’t have to drive for days for a bush holiday. Spicers Hidden Vale is a luxury retreat on 4800 hectares, less than an hour’s drive from Brisbane. Best of all, it includes an all-day kids’ club, where kids aged between four and 12 can herd sheep, go mountain biking, spot roos, play in the animal nursery, go fishing or visit cattle stations in a four-wheel-drive. And you? Hit the pool, have a massage, do yoga, go horse riding or have a drink at a live jazz session on Sundays. Book a two-night Family Farmstay until January 31, 2013 (excluding December 24-26 and January 1), and enjoy a free kids’ club, valued at $260, and kids dine free, with a pony lead for each child. Costs from $798 for a family of four, for two nights. 1300 284 667,
The Blackman hotel, St Kilda, Melbourne
Take your morning cuppa among the treetops during the Tahune Forest Air Walk or amid the beautiful Allendale Gardens and Rainforest on a 12-day coach tour of Tasmania. The trip begins and ends in Launceston, with highlights including a cruise down the Gordon River. Book by December 30 and save $350 a person on departures on February 16 and 23, and March 2, 2013. Costs from $3135 a person, including airfares from Sydney. Quote code SH when booking. 1800 815 906,


Koh Phangan island’s beauty is undisputed. Stay six nights, pay for four at the four-star beachfront Buri Rasa Village. Daily breakfast and speedboat transfers from Koh Samui airport on stays May 1-July 15, 2013. Must be booked by December 31, 2012. From $495 a person, twin share. 1300 138 755,
Happy to rug up? Save 20 per cent on a Eurail Global Flexi Pass in the northern winter and get a roaming SIM card worth $50. The pass is for trains and ships through 23 countries from Ireland to Romania for 10 or 15 days’ travel in a two-month period. Must be booked and paid for by December 31, for travel until March 31, 2013. From $430 (under 26s), $660 (singles 26 and over). 1300 387 245,
Chicago does winter beautifully, with its free ice rink in Millennium Park open until mid-March and its Christkindlmarket – said to be the largest of its kind outside Europe – running daily until Christmas Eve. Stay two nights at the Swissotel Chicago, save 20 per cent on the best available rate until February 25, 2013. From $US318 ($303) a room. 1800 121 043,
Powerderhounds are sniffing the air at Whistler, which recently opened for winter, and the pros are forecasting a great year for heli-skiing. The new Ultimate Whistler Experience package includes five nights for the price of four in a four-star hotel in Whistler Village, three days’ skiing at Whistler Blackcomb, one day’s heli-skiing at 6000-10,000 feet, and a free Fresh Tracks pass for each adult. From now until April 21, 2013. Costs from $1462 a person. +1 604 905 3337,
New Zealand
Yes, Huka Lodge is luxurious, but then the private Alan Pye Cottage, set on the lodge grounds, takes it up another notch. It can accommodate two couples and from April 1-September 30, 2013, the rate includes a private two-hour cooking lesson from Michelin-trained executive chef Michel Louws. So if you’ve snagged a trout in Lake Taupo, bring it in for regal treatment. The two-night package includes five-course dinners and country breakfasts. Costs from $8970 for two nights. +64 7 378 5791,

Tourwatch: Bhutan
In a world where it seems everybody’s travelling, it’s hard to escape the pack. The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan limits the number of international visitors, to preserve its ecosystems and its indigenous traditions. However, it has recently opened remote national parks to hikers, with two new five-night treks. The seasons for the Merak & Sakteng Trek are short — March 15-May 31, 2013 and September 1-November 30, 2013. The trek, graded easy-moderate, offers a rare chance to see remote villages, yak herds, the semi-nomadic Brokpas people and endangered wildlife in the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Bhutan. Packages include the five-night trek, two nights pre-trek in Samdrup Jongkhar and two nights post-trek in Trashigang. Costs from $US2706 ($2580) a person from Assam, India. 1300 367 875,

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald

Star-spangled winner: Como Melbourne

It’s not only rock stars who get made over, as Belinda Jackson discovers in Melbourne’s revamped Como hotel.

Robbie Williams stays here whenever he’s in town. Beckham drank in the hotel bar and of course La Minogue has hit the penthouses.

In its 22 years, South Yarra’s Como hotel has had ’em all, from Nana Mouskouri to Cyndi Lauper and Paris Hilton, a swagload of tennis players and old-school rockers including Springsteen and Bon Jovi.
Situated on Chapel Street, near Toorak, which is the equivalent of Monopoly’s Mayfair, the star-studded hotel has changed hands and fallen into the MGallery suite of unique properties.
Quite a lot of gold has also changed hands though the new owners are coy about the number of dollars in the multimillion-dollar makeover, but the figure of $5.3 million is bandied about, roughly $50,000 a room. Consequently, the hotel purrs like a well-fed cat. 
The lobby is a funky affair of poke-in-the-eye bright magenta carpet and sparkling white Space furniture, which sets the tone for the hotel: a gentle palette spattered with ultra-bright colour. Neutrals freaks, don’t be scared; the colour is maturely toned down with soft greys that are surely inspired by an autumnal Melbourne sky.
Originally built as an office, the building that houses the Como is horseshoe shaped, which makes it a little confusing finding the rooms. Our party of three checks in to our fifth-floor one-bedroom suite: my sister gets the comfy trundle that’s already made up, her own stash of Morrissey toiletries on the towels. The baby gets a cot tucked in beside my king-size bed that’s built for jumping on.
Out the window, we can look through a glass roof into the Como Centre, an upmarket shopping centre almost completely given over to hairdressers and European-style cafes, as well as the Palace Cinema.
One wall of the suite is a slick kitchenette, the diminutive name belying the stack of cutlery, glassware, fridges and microwave, and there’s an office nook with – get this – reachable power points.
Pendant lights hang over a round dining table and two wide couches look towards the TV. It’s all very spacious and large free-standing mirrors feature in all suites, opening the rooms up further.
A motif of the hotel’s mascot, a rubber duck, now appears throughout the marble-tastic art deco bathrooms, but the duck himself (and it is a him) is also enjoying a makeover, to be revealed next month.
The hotel comprises 107 rooms, including six “des reses” on the third floor that open onto a Japanese garden. But the Como’s calling cards are its three penthouses, now renamed Gold, Gem and Pearl. They really are very adult – each spans two floors, connected by a winding staircase.
Pearl, as the name suggests, is all about sophistication, with a sexy, subdued palette, whereas Gem is fired up with accents of strobe-yellow by way of a laser-cut coffee table. Both have a bedroom on the entry level, then you climb that staircase (a deathtrap after too many glasses of pop) to be absolutely smacked in the eye by a mezzanine level given over completely to bathing. On one side is a little sauna smelling deliciously of Norsca forests and on the other is a sunken tub attended by richly upholstered ottomans and walls of sparkling, metallic tiles.
The Gold penthouse is the entertainer’s hang, with a table for 10 and that baby grand, which has been bashed by Robbie Williams, Michael Buble and many, many others. The bedroom is upstairs, away from the party zone, a wall dividing it from a spectacular free-standing tub.
Sensibly, the hotel serves only breakfast and room service – why would you keep an entire restaurant when there are a hundred on your doorstep? To test the theory, we take a one-block wander around the hotel for dinner.
A minute from the hotel, we could choose George Calombaris’s Mama Baba for “Roman-Greco flavours and freshly made pasta”, but plump for the hip new kid of the Melbourne dining scene, Claremont Tonic, a saucy little pan-Asian restaurant that gives off the vibe it has a secret nightclub out the back.
It’s got Vietnamese, it’s got Thai, and of course it’s got the flavour of the month, Korean.
We hoover bo ssam duck and knock back a chenin blanc, and while it’s pricey, compared with many other good options in the area, the service is smooth and professional.
The next morning, we hit the breakfast room, which spills out into the hotel foyer – however the interior tables are squishy and it’s just not warm. The buffet has all you require: lashings of yoghurts, fruit, a decent toaster and cereals, and the hot menu turns up a seriously mean omelette, which comes accompanied by a bacon mountain.
At 10.30am, our room is a disaster zone and I ring downstairs to confirm checkout time. “It’s 11am but I’ll extend you to midday, if you like?” I like, thank you. I could stay even later, for $25, but we opt to pack up and stash the luggage in the car and swim and shower upstairs in the gym bathrooms. The heated indoor swimming pool has a retractable roof for those hot, summer nights, while the small gym is getting a lick of paint.
Facing the Como, Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio is surely a kids’ playground, we reckon, but the shop is packed with adults, cooing over delightful chocpops, banana milk chocolate bars and tiny cakes.
Back at the hotel to check out, I’ve read all the celebrity gumpf about the hotel, but forget rock stars, the foyer is dominated by two young children, albeit clad in gorgeous Japanese-design raincoats, who team up with my progeny for an impromptu play session.
Just when I’m starting to think that it’s toddlers, not rock stars, who are now trashing the hotel rooms, the lift doors open to show a suitably grungy couple in top-to-toe black, with lashings of tatts and facial jewellery. And then, in the lobby, I spy a bloke in a black band T-shirt hauling a few shopping bags full of booze upstairs, and my concerns for the Como’s reputation are assuaged.
She’s still rockin’, she’s just wearing a whole lot more bling.

Trip notes

Where The Como Melbourne, a hotel of the MGallery Collection, 630 Chapel Street, South Yarra. (03) 9825 2731,
How much From $255 a night. Get a free breakfast for two, worth $50, on stays until January 31.
Top marks Huge airy rooms. The Japanese garden rooms are true serenity in the city.
Black mark Annoying, pricey wi-fi. In 2012, really? Plus the breakfast room is set up like an afterthought.
Don’t miss A dip in the top-floor pool. Yes, it’s heated: we’re in Melbourne.

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald  

Rug up and reap the benefits: wintery holiday bargains


If you’re keen for a wintery holiday, there are bargains to be had.

New York City

In post-Christmas Manhattan, crowds drop off, hotel prices come down, sales take off and ice skates come into their own. It’s Restaurant Week, too, in January/February, during which key fine-dining places offer fixed-price menus.
The 414 Hotel in midtown Manhattan has a “stay four nights, pay for three” deal in its queen-size rooms, from January 5 to February 28. The 414 is a small hotel comprising two townhouses with a courtyard in between. West 46th Street (46th and Ninth Avenue), from $155 a night.
The Condor Hotel is in a commercial-residential Jewish neighbourhood of Brooklyn where Hasidic tradition meets hipster gentrification. The subway is about a three-block walk from the hotel, as are a string of restaurants on Myrtle Avenue. The hotel has a seven-night offer in January and February with savings of up to 20 per cent. A twin room, with kitchenette and balcony, costs from $US167.82 ($160) a night , including taxes, dropping to $US131 a night, including taxes, for the bulk of the seven-night stay. The hotel has a lounge and garden and the room rate includes breakfast. 56 Franklin Avenue.
Paris B&B,


Cathay Pacific has early-bird flights to Europe via Hong Kong for those who can delay their Christmas gift to themselves until April 2013. Economy-class return flights cost from $1640 if booked by December 31 for travel between April 1 and May 31 or between September 1 and October 31. Destinations include London, Rome, Milan, Paris, Frankfurt, Moscow and Amsterdam. Early-bird premium economy return seats to Europe cost from $3112. 13 17 47,
The “Canton route” is a new take on the classic “kangaroo route” from Australia to Europe. Canton is Guangzhou, a city of about 12 million just across the delta from Hong Kong, and an emerging stopover for travellers, courtesy of it being the home base of China Southern Airlines. Early-bird fares are available for bookings made until December 31 for travel from January 22 to June 30, 2013. Costs from $1289 for a return economy-class fare to Paris or Amsterdam; from $1439 to London. Conditions apply. 1300 889 628,
Paris apartments to rent can be well-placed gems. Stays in January mean savings, too. For example, an apartment in the 17th arrondissement about 15 minutes’ walk from the Arc de Triomphe is a green oasis in the centre of the city. Originally built as a nuns’ cloister, the apartment can accommodate three people and has a kitchen. Stay in January for €140 ($173) a night, twin
Ephesus, Turkey
Austria is ski central. An eight-night Ski Plus package in Tyrol’s SkiWelt costs from $675 a person, quad share, when booked with any other winter Europe tour. Includes overnight transfers from London and breakfast daily. 1300 266 845,
Turkey encompasses cosmopolitan Istanbul, ancient Ephesus and mournful Gallipoli. An 11-night tour visits the sites, including Demre on the Mediterranean coast and the trading port of Phoenicus, now Finike. Save 15 per cent on bookings until January 15, 2013, for travel from December 19, 2012, to December 19, 2013. From $935 a person.


High in the wine region of Valle de Guadalupe, 20 eco-cabins meld into the environment to create Endemico, a Design Hotel in Mexico’s Baja California. Remote, yes, but also just 90 minutes from San Diego by air. Get 20 per cent off the best available rate on two-night stays, or stay three nights, pay for two, until March 17, 2013. Costs from $US280 for two nights; from $US350 for three


Now’s a great time to visit – without the crowds or the heat. Tempo Holidays has a two-for-the-price-of-one package on its 11-day Wonders of Egypt tour, which visits Cairo and Alexandria, El Alamein’s World War II battlefields and includes a four-night cruise on the Nile. Book by December 31, travel until September 30, 2013. Costs from $3162 for two people.


Marrakesh is the jewel of Morocco. It’s winter here, so rug up and admire the snowy peaks behind the city. Save 30 per cent on three-night stays at Angsana Riads Collection Morocco until February 18, 2013 (excludes stays between December 23 and January 6). Costs from $350 for three nights. 1800 050 019,

Cruise New Zealand

Save up to $930 on the price of an inside cabin on a 13-night voyage aboard the Dawn Princess from Melbourne to New Zealand departing on February 18. Sail through the stunning Fiordland National Park and visit Wellington, Napier and Auckland. The voyage costs from $1369 a person from Melbourne, or $1800 from Sydney, which includes Qantas flights and a two-night pre-cruise stay at the Crowne Promenade Melbourne. The deal also comes with a $75 shipboard credit. Book by December 31. 1300 596 345,

Read more:

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald

White Christmas at either end of the globe: travel deals 9 December 2012

Dreaming of a white Christmas? Try Austria…or Australia (if Tassie turns on the cold tap) in this week’s best international and Australian travel deals. 

Adelaide experiences include coffee at Lucia’s in the Central Markets, where
you can shop for a beach picnic in the cool shade of the jetties on the
spectacular sweeps of Semaphore and Henley beaches. Save 25 per cent when you
stay at the Hilton Adelaide. Book by February 14, 2013 for travel until
December 31, 2013. Costs from $169 a room. 
1300 888 180,
With the sun finally out, Melbourne’s laneways are bursting with tables for a perfectly brewed coffee or cheeky wine on the footpath. Stay four nights at the 4.5-star Best Western Premier Hotel 115 Kew and save 25 per cent in a one-bedroom apartment which includes a king bed, spa bath and full kitchen. Book by January 31, stay by February 28, 2013. Normally $299 a night, costs from $896 for four nights. (03) 8862 0200,

The Metro Hotel Sydney Central is opposite the Capital
Theatre, which is currently showing the classic ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’. Stay
one night in a deluxe room in the Metro Hotel Sydney Central, which can
accommodate up to two adults and two children, and they’ll include a buffet
breakfast for the whole family and chocolates on arrival. Normally from $189 a
night, stay until December 20.  Costs
from $205 for two adults and two children 1800 00 4321,

Just 2½ hours flight from Sydney, Norfolk Island does old-school school holidays – horse riding, fish and chips and bush walks. Kids stay free on Norfolk Island this summer, with packages including flights from Sydney, seven nights’ accommodation at Hibiscus Aloha, seven days’ car hire, a round of mini golf and discount shopping cards until January 31, 2013. Costs from $1129 for adults and $589 for kids up to 17 years. 1800 1400 66,

The calendar of events at the Queensland Art
Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, one of Australia’s premier modern art galleries,
is worth the trip alone, including the current 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of
Contemporary Art, with 77 artists from 27 countries. The Brisbane Marriott’s
Discover Brisbane package includes one night in a deluxe city view room for
two, a $30 taxi voucher, free valet parking and breakfast buffet. Usually from
$199 room only, stay until January 31, 2013, costs from $249, quote promo code ‘ES2’.
(07) 3303 8000,
Hankering for a white Christmas without the international
airfare? It’s been known to snow in Tassie on Christmas Day, so maybe you’ll
get lucky. Or maybe you’ll get one of those perfect, blue-sky days and the
freshest air on the planet on this 11-day Best of Tasmania guided tour. Includes
a tour of thriving Hobart, MONA gallery and Christmas Eve at Cradle Mountain
Chateau. Travel on the December 22 departure and get an early Chrissy present
of $100 off. Costs from $3890 a person, twin share, excludes flights. 1300 228
You thought Singapore couldn’t fit one more new hotel,
but you’re wrong. Parkroyal on Pickering is set to open near Chinatown this
month. Designed by Australian architect Richard Hassel, it’s already earned the
country’s highest green rating, with solar power, water recycling and sky
gardens. The hotel’s opening special costs from $220++ with breakfast, from
January 1 – March 31, 2013. 1800 192 144,

Get organised for a winter getaway in southern Thailand
and save. Get four nights free in Phuket at the Phuket Graceland Resort &
Spa, near Patong Beach, when you book eight nights in a superior room. You still
get daily breakfast and airport transfers, as well as a two-hour Thai massage
for two, and the resort includes kids’ club and facilities and a day spa. Book
by January 31, stay April 1 – November 15, 2013. Costs from $351 a person.
Blue Holidays gives you an early Christmas present by
cutting $500 off its seven-night stays at mangoes Resort, in Port Vila. The
package includes return airfares from Sydney with Virgin Australia. Book by
December 31 for travel from now until December 21, and between January 10 –
March 31, 2013. Costs from $1171 a person, twin share. 131 516 or visit
Tick off all the classics – the Blarney Stone, Loch Ness
and Buck Palace – on this 16-day tour through England, Scotland and Ireland. You’ll
also trail The Beatles through Liverpool on a local Magical Mystery Tour and
find what’s hip and happening in London, Dublin, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Tours
depart March to October 2013. Book by December 27, save $228 a person. Costs
from $2061 a person, twin share, land only. 1300 266
You want it all: Victoria Falls, the Serengeti and Masai
Mara national parks, to wake up to Mt Kilimanjaro and, of course, Kruger. APT’s
Africa Highlights, which runs year-round, spends 29 days traversing southern
Africa including 15 nights in South Africa and 11 in Kenya and Tanzania. The
package includes all internal flights, game viewing and accommodation in luxury
camps and private game lodges, and is sweetened by a companion-free-flight
deal, where your mate pays taxes of $795, saving up to $2040 for a couple. Book
before December 31, 2012. Costs from $18,995 a person, twin share. 1300 229
Sleigh rides, mulled wine and cosying up in an Italian
castle: it’s the antipodean’s dream of a perfect white Christmas. This 10-day
tour departs from Munich and traverses the winter landscapes of Germany,
Austria and Italy, stopping at Innsbruck and Salzburg’s famous Christmas
markets,  popping in to Milan and Venice
for a spot of last-minute shopping. Too bad you won’t have time to post your
presents back home – oh well, you’ll just have to buy for yourself. The tour
includes four nights in CastelBrando, built in the first century and
continuously renovated to its current incarnation as a 4.5-star hotel. Set in
the foothills of the Dolomites, you’ll spend Christmas Day here, sitting down
to an Italian feast. Book by December 17 for travel December 18. Costs from
$3199 a person, twin share. 1800 044 066,

Rendezvous in Melbourne a sleeper hit

Traveller’s Bar, Rendezvous Grand Hotel Melbourne

I have to admit: I must have walked past the Rendezvous Grand Hotel Melbourne a thousand times, and have never looked in.

You could call the facade ‘unassuming’, but it’s actually just downright misleading.

The building celebrates its centenary next year, and the interior gives a clue to its age, with impossibly high, moulded ceilings, ornate stained-glass windows and fabulous old-school mahogany doors throughout.

We checked in on Tuesday afternoon for a quick city stay. It’s a business hotel through-and-through, so I have to warn you: the rooms are fine for a couple, but those toting tackers are in for a squeeze. For the best view in the house, ask for a corner room on the eighth floor, which will get you a little Juliet balcony, with fabulous views over Flinders St station. Otherwise the Heritage rooms are going to be a hit for their impossibly high ceilings and grainy photos of Melbourne streetlife in the shower.

The hotel has been undergoing restoration for four years, in time for its centenary celebrations.

In its time, it’s hosted Edward Prince of Wales, Fred Astaire and Gregory Peck filmed On The Beach here (1959, post-nuclear Australia), and the foyer was designed by the same architect responsible for the Titanic’s ballroom.

A highlight of the hotel is the Traveller’s Bar in the foyer. A beautiful space, it features Edwardian leadlighting and deep leather sofas. There’s also what has to be the best value happy hour in town, 5.30-6.30pm, $5 for house wines and beers, including Rothbury Estate’s sparkling.

The lead-in price stands at around $189 a night, check their pay one/stay two deal until January 13, 2013.

Rendezvous Grand Hotel Melbourne: 328 Flinders St, Melbourne, +61 3 9250 1888,

Hey, big spenders! Shopping holidays in Asia.

Plastic loaded and flats on feet? Experts tell Belinda Jackson where the bargains are in Asia.
It’s official: Hong Kong is the hottest shopping neighbourhood in the Asia-Pacific region.
“The food, the shopping, the views, the energy, the noise, the waterways – HK’s alive and buzzing 24/7,” says design tracker Anne-Maree Sargeant, on our panel of shopping experts who share their secret haunts and favourite hot spots in the region’s top 10 shopping cities, according to a Global Shopper survey (
The cities were chosen based on their visitor numbers – Sydney is the only Australian city to make the list – and each city was marked out of 100 based on its affordability, shops, convenience, hotels, transport, climate and culture.

1. Hong Kong, 69/100

The insider Art and design journalist and hunter Anne-Maree Sargeant (
What’s hot Best in show for its fashion, electronics, watches and jewellery. 83/100 for the shops.
What’s not Pricey hotels that are permanently booked out. 58/100 for retail affordability.
The address book Hit Cat Street Gallery for emerging and mid-career artists ( and the inaugural Hong Kong art fair (May 23- 26, 2013), run by the hugely influential new owners Art Basel and Design Miami ( Stylish superstore Lane Crawford is stacked with luxury brands and designer offerings. Check the capsule store featuring furniture and lighting from favourite Brit designer Lee Broom ( Get your fix of Harvey Nicks at The Landmark, the Asian Harvey Nichols flagship store for revered luxury and designer offerings ( Monocle Shop is the first of a new “retail/news” concept for British style tome Monocle (
Getting there Fly Sydney to Hong Kong direct with Qantas (, Cathay Pacific ( or Virgin Atlantic (
Staying there The 117-room Upper House hotel, designed by architect Andre Fu, sits above Pacific Place Shopping Mall, Admiralty, Hong Kong Island (

2. Kuala Lumpur 65/100

The insider Belinda Jackson, travel writer and former international shopping columnist.
What’s hot Low prices in great malls and off-the-scale seasonal sales. 76/100 for shops.
What’s not Sticky climate and few attractions. 50/100 for climate and culture.
The address book Malaysians do shoes, led by the master, Jimmy Choo, in luxe mall Suria KLCC ( The new Choo is said to be Lewre Lew, found in Parkson department stores ( Buy batik shoes from Jimmy’s fave designer, Fion Poon, in the Central Market ( Brothers Charles and Keith Wong’s Charles & Keith are unmissable for affordable, high-style shoes and accessories ( For stingray clutches, head to Klutched in Mid Valley Megamall ( High-energy Low Yat Plaza has every computer invention at one-third of the price of Singapore, with one floor dedicated just to repairs ( KL is justly famous for its malls – hit the strip of Bukit Bintang for big-dollar Starhill and Suria KLCC, chic Pavilion, street-smart Fahrenheit88, Lot 10 and perennial bargain fave Sungei Wang.
Getting there Fly direct from Sydney to Malaysia with Malaysia Airlines ( and Air Asia (
Staying there The Westin Kuala Lumpur is at the start of Bukit Bintang, making it ideal for shoppers (

3. Shanghai 63/100

The insiders Fashion designer Alex Zabotto-Bentley and events director Anna Patterson of AZBcreative (
What’s hot International brands, affordable hotels and long shopping hours. 84/100 for hotels and transport.
What’s not Nasty sales taxes. 59/100 for affordability.
The address book Spend a weekend afternoon at the iconic Dong Tai Lu Antiques Markets. Enter from Xizang Lu into Liuhe Lu, near Xintiandi, and haggle. Spin has amazing handmade ceramics: think industrial chic meets a Chinese art gallery (360 Kangding Lu, near Shanxi Bei Lu). Casa Pagoda is the ultimate in East meets West, with exotic fabrics, old lost-and-found furniture and homewares ( We love Madame Mao’s Dowry for womenswear and Chinese kitsch for the home ( The streets Xinle Lu and Changle Lu in the French Concession have amazing women’s fashion, cafes and art deco furniture. Try The Villa for high-end international fashion (
Getting there Fly Sydney to Shanghai direct with China Eastern ( or Air China (
Staying there For immaculate location and architecture, stay at the Waterhouse at South Bund (
More info

4. Beijing 61/100

The insider Still-life master and photographer Dieu Tan (
What’s hot Long shopping hours, top World Heritage sites and good hotels. 84/100 for hotels and transport.
What’s not Limited foreign languages spoken and few deals. 49/100 for shops.
The address book Hunt hard for genuine Chinese antiques among the reproductions at Panjiayuan antique market (21 Dongsanhuan Nanlu, Chaoyang District). Spend a day or two in Dashanzi Art District’s galleries looking at Modern Chinese art. Most work is for sale, so visit the UCCA gallery shop (2 Jiuxiangqiao Lu, Chaoyang District). Sanlitun Village is one of the hippest areas in town, with ultra-luxe brands with a Beijing edge (19 and 11 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District). The Gulou/Houhai area houses the traditional Beijing hutong style of architecture, some of which is converted into stylish shops for local art, home deco, tea, fashion and accessories (Gulou Dong Da Jie, Dongcheng District). The Sanyuanli food market is where many Western restaurants and international grocery stores buy wholesale (Shunyuan Jie, west of Sanyuan Dongqiao, Chaoyang District).
Getting there Fly Sydney to Beijing direct with Air China (
Staying there Hotel G is a 110-room hotel in the Sanlitun district. Workers’ Stadium West Road, Chaoyang District (
More info

5. Singapore 60/100

The insider “House whisperer” and stylist Megan Morton (
What’s hot Safe, culturally diverse and convenient. 71/100 for hotels and transport.
What’s not Pricey hotels and high transport costs. 50/100 for affordability.
The address book Expect cups, trinkets and objects you didn’t know you had to have until you saw them at gallery-store Little Drom Store ( Red Dot Design Museum’s Design Journey is an excursion to 18 of the city’s most design-oriented places ( Locals dress their spaces with Miles & Theodore’s modernistic offerings from Copenhagen’s Massproductions, France’s Revol and Carpet Reloaded floor coverings ( Go for the rose-petal tea; go for the marmalade; go for the vintage selection: Carpenter & Cook is a tea room that trades vintage curios, furniture and kitchenware (
Getting there Fly Sydney to Singapore direct with Singapore Airlines (, Scoot (, Qantas (, China Eastern (, British Airways ( and Virgin Australia (
Staying there Every room in the New Majestic Design Hotel differs, the service is great and the rooms are energising. (31-37 Bukit Pasoh,
More info

6. Sydney 58/100

The insider Style queen Melissa Penfold, author of Australian Style and co-author of Melissa Penfold’s Little Black Book: Sydney’s Shopping Secrets.
What’s hot Great weather, cultural attractions. 71/100 for climate, culture.
What’s not Short trading hours, costly hotels and tricky visas. Bargain central, it’s not. 34/100 for affordability.
The address book The Country Trader has hundreds of antique-look table accessories in silver, glass, china and wood (, while Spence & Lyda’s glam new showroom is the place for Missoni Home linen ( Double Bay’s Transvaal Avenue is hot right now: start at My Island Home for Caribbean living style, African home lovelies at Doveton Kay Interiors, or French pretties at Maison et Jardin. Jan Logan Jewellery has great taste at sensible prices ( and Anny Lada Jewellery is the celebs’ source of big, affordable, shell-based South Sea pearls (shop 37, 22 Knox Street). Top Australian fashion designers reside at The Intersection in Paddington, with Acne and Bassike for brill basics. At Robert Burton, get French Cire Trudon candles, fab Bensimon sneakers and Petit Bateau womenswear (
Getting there By cab or bus.
Staying there Everyone’s talking about Sydney’s newest hotel, QT in the heart of the city (
More info

7. Bangkok 57/100

The insider Photographer Matt Burns splits his time between Australia and Bangkok (
What’s hot Fun street markets, great hotels and spectacular food. 69/100 for affordability.
What’s not Dodgy counterfeits. 50/100 for culture and climate.
The address book Monte Carlo tailors isn’t a cheap option, but the staff do provide fantastic quality and service. Expect to pay $300-$1000 for a suit, depending on the cloth ( I can’t recommend Fotofile in the MBK Centre highly enough for its professional camera equipment and unsurpassed knowledge and service. Try and talk to Khun Kong for the best service ( Pantip Plaza has every piece of computer equipment you’ll ever need, but know your prices first (604 New Petchaburi Road). For clothes, homewares and pretty much everything in the world, visit the Chatuchak weekend market. Get in early before the heat and crowds ( and shop for Thai silk at Narai Phand in the Royal Thai Government Handicrafts Centre (
Getting there Fly Sydney to Bangkok direct with Thai Airways (, Emirates ( or Qantas (
Staying there The new, wallet-friendly Aloft Bangkok is a quick tuk-tuk trip to Bangkok’s shopping strips (
More info

8. Tokyo 56/100

The insider Melbourne/NY interiors stylist Glen Proebstel (
What’s hot A great events calendar. 92/100 for hotels and transport.
What’s not Few sales and super-high hotel, transport and dining costs. 20/100 for affordability.
The address book Claska Gallery and Shop is the perfect destination to sample the best of local and international design makers and crafters ( New York fashion store Opening Ceremony opened a Tokyo branch that’s a must-visit ( For beautifully chosen industrial vintage, visit Journal Standard Furniture ( As the name says, I Find Everything Tokyo ( Fog Linen Work has been a recognisable brand in many boutique homeware stores throughout Australia, but nothing compares to visiting where it all began (

Getting there Fly Sydney to Tokyo direct with Qantas ( or with Jetstar, via Gold Coast or Cairns (

Staying there The Park Hotel Tokyo is a soothing oasis amid the neon (
More info

9. Seoul 55/100

The insider Australian model Jessica Gomes, a bona fide superstar in Korea (
What’s hot Good mix of old markets and new boutiques. 66/100 for hotels and transport.
What’s not Dodgy weather and a challenging hotel scene. 43/100 for retail affordability.
The address book The Galleria Department Store, in the Apgujeong-dong retail district, is super-modern and cool for international luxury brands. Dongdaemun Shopping Market is open from midnight until early morning. I love buying from young Korean designers who provide great quality at a good price. The Hyundai Department Store has a mixture of Korean and international labels, as well as a great food market. Green Street has cool hipster cafes and boutiques. Korea has great labels such as VOV ( and really good up-and-coming designers in the boutiques in Apgujeong-dong.
Getting there Fly Sydney to Seoul direct with Korean Air ( or Asiana Airlines (
Staying there The IP Boutique Hotel is a quirky hotel in the expat Itaewon district (737-32 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu,
More information

10. Delhi 53/100

The insider Interior stylist, creative director and owner of The Society Inc, Sibella Court (
What’s hot Fabulous sights and haggling shopkeepers. 63/100 for affordability.
What’s not Weak for mall rats, tough visas and struggling transport. 40/100 for shopping.
The address book The Full Circle Bookstore has every book of every author who has ever spoken or been a part of Jaipur’s incredible literary festival ( The National Handicrafts & Handlooms Museum gives an insight into the skill and technique behind it all, and craftspeople sell their wares in the courtyard ( Anokhi is great for the travelling basics – scarves, cotton pants – all lovely and affordable ( I love the Chandni Chowk market in Old Delhi, especially the hardware section with all the vendors tinkering away. Kamayani has amazing handmade textiles from across India, selected with a superb eye (
Getting there Fly Sydney to Delhi with China Southern (via Guangzhou) (, Singapore Airlines ( and Virgin Australia via Singapore (
Staying there The Manor is a stylish boutique hotel in New Friends Colony, with just 15 rooms and a lot of luxury (
More information

Hide away in the Maldives, Kimberley or Falkands: travel deals 2 December 2012

Hideaway tourism is so hot right now: Western Australia’s Kimberley, an island resort in the Maldives (pictured left), not to be confused with those other remote islands, Islas Malvinas, aka the South Atlantic’s Falkland Islands. There’s deals to be had in all corners of the world. Read on…

Queueing is sooo boring – stay at Mantra One Sandy Bay
and they’ll hand over two tickets, worth $40, to the Museum
of Old and New Art
(MONA) Theatre of the World exhibition in
their ‘Ultimate Hobart Package’. The hotel is a short walk from the ferry that
takes you up the Derwent River to MONA, or is a less romantic 15 minutes’
drive. Costs from $209 a night in a one-bedroom apartment until December
25. 131 517,

The city is hotting up for Christmas, and the Sydney
Hilton, on George St, is well placed to soak up the festive vibe. The hotels’Any
weekend Anywhere’ deal saves 25 per cent off its room only an dB&B rates on
stays from November 26, 2012 until December 31, 2013. Bookings are open unitl
February 14, 2013, and you must book at least seven days before you stay. Costs
from $209 a night. (02) 9266 2051,  
Hello, Darwin.
For a taste of real summer and different harbour views,
head north to the tropical heat of Darwin and sink a sundowner as the sun sets
over the water. Crowne Plaza Darwin’s Recharge package knocks 20 per cent off
the room rate and throws in a free breakfast buffet on stays until February 28,
2013. Minimum three nights’ stay. Costs from $354 for three nights, 138 388,
Yarra Valley is a vista of rolling hills and vineyards, with the 4.5-star Mercure
Balgownie Estate Vineyard Resort & Spa in its centre. The hotel has just
opened its new Experience Pool, set at a toasty 28 degrees, which provides therapeutic
treatments and exercises that tie in with its onsite spa. Stay midweek (Mon –
Thurs) in a one bedroom spa suite and they’ll include breakfast and a couple of
champagne cocktails – perhaps simultaneously? – on stays from December 16 to
February 28, 2013. Costs from $305 a night (03) 9730 0700,
Forget rumours that Queensland is the most expensive
place to holiday in Australia@: take the family for a Gold Coast break for less
than a grand. Book a BYOKids family package for two adults and two kids staying
seven nights in a two-bedroom apartment in Turtle Beach Resort, and get a round
of putt-putt golf, paddle pop vouchers and welcome drinks, as  well as a family pass to “Ripley’s
Believe it or Not,” worth nearly $50. Book by December 16 for stays from
now until December 21, and from January 27 – March 27, 2013. Costs $995 for 2
adults, 2 kids or $1170 for 2 adults, 3 kids. 1300 296 543,
The only way to arrive at Australia’s newest eco lodge is
by float plane. The Berkeley River Lodge sits on Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, on the Kimberley coast, one of Australia’s
great wildernesses an hour’s flight from the nearest town. Couples save $2100
and solo travellers save $1100 on this four-night package that includes
float plane transfers from Kununurra, guided treks, river cruises and fishing
adventures. Stay February 1 – March 31, 2013, costs from $5976 a couple, $4488
for solo, four nights. 1300 851 800,
When in Rome… drive a Fiat 500. Actually, this new tour
starts in Florence, and sees you driving in a convoy of the classic tiny Fiat
500 cars along quiet private roads to a 15th-century Renaissance villa for a
Tuscan picnic, swim and wine tasting. The five-hour tour normally costs $190 a
person. Book and pay by December 31 for tours between February and October
2013, and save 25 per cent. Costs from $145 a person, twin share. (03) 5722
Visit medieval towns and learn to say their names,
especially when their names are Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
Lucky you’ve got five days to do so, on a five-day Welsh Explorer. Other Welsh
classics on the tour include the wilds of Snowdonia, Conwy castle and a coal
mine. Save up to 15 per cent on bookings before December 21, quote code
‘earlybird’. Costs from $349 a person. 1300 287 226,
The Alhambra, Granada, Spain.
Ronda’s beautiful bullring, Real
Palace, the Alhambra – does Spanish sightseeing get any better? Yes, when you
add wine and tapas tasting, and sangria and flamenco in Seville. The eight-day
small-group Spanish Inspiration tour starts in Madrid and travels south to
Malaga. Save $812 on bookings made by December 15. Costs from $3468 a person,
twin share. 1300 100 410,
Any holiday can be improved with the inclusion of a Rolls-Royce transfer or lavish afternoon tea, and Shanghai is no exception. Book a two-night Winter Moments stay at the Peninsula Shanghai and get up to US$150 credit to spend in the hotel’s restaurants, spas or services, as well as an upgrade to the next room category, daily American breakfast, free local calls and wi-fi. Stay by March 15, 2013, costs from $714 for two nights. 1800 116 888,

The Maldives are the last word in luxury, and the
44-bungalow island resort of Huvafen Fushi per Aquum one of its jewels, with
the world’s first underwater spa. The property has just reopened following a
refurb and is offering guests free speedboat transfers, free half board and a
stay five, pay four deal in its beach bungalows, complete with plunge pool,
until December 23. Usually from US$6050, costs from US$3800 for five nights.
Marathon obsessives, take note, the world’s most
southerly marathon, on the far-flung Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic,
will take place on March 17, 2013. The remote archipelago comprises more than 700
islands off the eastern coast of Argentina, and its brief summer sees average
temperatures of just 15 degrees, though there’s plenty of sunshine. The
Falklands hosts an extreme marathon route that sees less than 50 runners
complete the race each year. An eight-day tour departs Punta Arenas in southern
Chile and visits a penguin colony in Chile, and the Falklands islands of Sea
Lion, Darwin and Carcass, for a chance to
mingle with the locals – human and animal, including reindeer, orca pods
and sea lions. The itinerary includes time for pre-race preparation and costs
from $4195 a person including internal
flights. +1 406 541 2677,

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald